Meet the Chef: Ken Roberts of Chef Ken's Cafe
Roberts is heavily involved with community activities as well.
Chefs come from all different backgrounds and upbringings, but when your paternal grandfather is a chef and you grew up with five strong women who all dominated in the kitchen, being in a kitchen is your destiny, even if you fought it all you could.
Chef Ken Roberts of Chef's Ken's Cafe wasn't always a chef. But Roberts, who has Italian, Cuban and African-American roots, eventually made his way to the professional kitchen. The mix of three very food centered cultures contribute to Chef Ken's own version of what he calls "healthy soul food." He says extra virgin olive oil is his best friend in the kitchen (no animal fats used for cooking), everything is made fresh on the premises and proteins are cooked to order whenever possible.
Read below to find out more about this former car salesman, community supporter and teacher.
Name: Ken Roberts
Hometown: Montclair, N.J.
Resides Now: Mt. Airy
Favorite Thing about Mt. Airy: The diversity of people.
Do you do any work for the community?: "Yes, I help out with the Global Leadership Committee, I've donated food to the 14th Police District Advisory Council and I participate in fundraisers and events with the area schools including Project Learn, where I actually went into the school and gave the kids a lesson on Southern cooking. They loved it and I had such a great time doing it."
Years in the Industry: 28
Earliest Cooking Memory: "Being with my grandma and my mom and her sisters in the kitchen. Grandma was the boss, but whenever she would turn her back, one of my aunts would secretly add stuff to the pot or whatever. They were all very competitive with one another and convinced that they knew the best recipe for everything."
First Kitchen Job: "Prep cook at my family's restaurant, Sugar Hill, in New York City. My (paternal) grandfather was a chef and he's still alive."
What brought you to the industry? "I've sold cars, clothes and insurance but the whole time people were coming over to my house to eat and telling me how great the food was. I have always loved cooking and so finally I went back to restaurants."
Advice for Home Cooks: "It ain't what you cook, it's how you cook it. If you ain't tasting you're not cooking."
Favorite Thing to Cook: Beef ribs and brisket.
Favorite Menu Item: "Blackened tilapia. We cook it in a cast iron pan, to order."
Healthiest Menu Item: Grilled vegetables with extra virgin olive oil and fresh herbs.
Favorite Local Restaurant: Chef Ken's Cafe
Favorite Restaurant in the World: McCormick and Schmick's
Guilty Pleasure (food or drink): Ben and Jerry's Chunky Monkey ice cream
Have you cooked for any celebrities? "Yes. The cast members of TV shows like Seinfeld, Saved by the Bell, Drew Carey Show, Livin' Single, Boy Meets World, the Wayans Brothers and many others. There are signed pictures all over the restaurant."
Favorite Food Shows: Gordon Ramsay. He's tough, and he screams. but he's right—some of those restaurants are awful. Chef Jeff Henderson is also great--he helps the youth. I can relate to him.
Biggest Kitchen Disaster: The freon ran out on me in my refrigerator. I had to stay and baby sit it and keep icing stuff down until the guy came to fix it. Losing my refrigerator and black outs are the worst things that can happen to me.
Last Meal on Earth: My smoked lentil bisque. I puree it so it's like silk, it's creamy, and we add some liquid smoke. There is a richness to it and you'll go right to sleep after you eat it.